Not all kids started school this week on equal footing.
Some were lacking supplies, and felt like outsiders when they showed up without backpacks and pencils. Others came to school without having had breakfast. Some came from a "home" that is only a temporary stop for their homeless family. For others, there were no new "school clothes" to start the new school year.
"Minnesota students face gaps in learning, housing, household income, health and more," Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said last week. "That is why I am committed to finding ways to serve the whole child, so all children have the support they need to succeed in the classroom."
Ricker was speaking in relation to new data showing that stubborn achievement gaps exist in Minnesota's schools. In graduation rates, as well as in specific math and reading categories, minority students and newcomers tend to achieve at lower levels than their white colleagues.
That's not news. This achievement gap has existed for as long as data has been collected. And despite the best efforts of Minnesota's school officials and classroom teachers, the gap remains difficult to close.
A large part of the reason for that is because of the factors Ricker mentioned.
Unfortunately, our schools get students at the end of the pipeline, so to speak. By the time a pupil walks in the door of the schoolhouse, he or she might be saddled with a host of issues school officials can do very little about: homelessness, poverty, broken and dysfunctional families.
Are these issues faced only by minority students? Not by any means. Many white students show up at school equally disadvantaged. But a greater percentage of white students tend to have built-in support systems to help them achieve in school, and that skews the averages in terms of graduation rates and test scores to their advantage.
What we, and we believe Ricker, are saying is that the achievement gap is not only a school problem. It is a society-wide issue, and one that can be chipped away at only by a community-wide effort.
This is no time for pointing fingers, giving up and walking away in frustration. At every level of society, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that every child, no matter their background, is ready to reach their potential in the classroom.
Otherwise, we are shortchanging not only our children, but our community as well.